Time for Vice President ?

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK Political commentator Joseph Diescho has dropped a political bomb. He is advocating the scrapping of the post of Prime Minister and the separation of the Legislative and Executive powers. Diescho said this at the Polytechnic of Namibia on Friday. However, his open challenge for radical constitutional change and reform was almost immediately nipped in the bud as “far-fetched” by one of the architects of the Namibian Constitution, former Prime Minister Hage Geingob. The scene for the tussle for political honours was a panel discussion as part of the first conference organised by the recently established Namibia/United States Alumni Association (NUSAA) at the Polytechnic of Namibia. “Africa in general and Namibia in particular struggles with a number of political oversights in its democratic structural form for the sake of better and more effective governance. In Namibia, we have a very dangerous situation in which the Legislative and Executive powers are too centred in one. Futuristically thinking, we should have them separated from each other,” Professor Diescho let down the gauntlet. Diescho apparently based his controversial statement on thorough research he conducted recently in 19 other African countries. “Africa is crying out for political change, so too, Namibia. We have inherited a constitutional system from the colonialists and hoped it would set us free. We can change it to suit our own needs. We can for instance constitutionally provide for a Vice President and abolish the post of Prime Minister for better and more effective governance,” Diescho proposed in his contribution to the discussion on national development issues. He expressed profound concern over the fact that Cabinet ministers can be appointed for life. “Presently we have an unhealthy situation in which ministers are appointed for life and in Parliament they are accountable only to themselves, reporting to themselves as part of checks and balances. The ministers only need to fear the President. This is not good. Furthermore, for good governance, the President should also be given the right to appoint Cabinet ministers of his own choice to rule the country for five years only,” he suggested. At this stage of the debate, fellow panellist Hage Geingob stepped in and vigorously defended the present government system. “Our system of government cannot be compared to countries such as the United States and Britain. The Namibian democratic system is closer to that of France. Any government system can be improved, even that of Namibia. However, at present accountability remains in the Prime Minister of the country, unless so decided by the electorate. In my view my fellow panellist’s proposal for constitutional change is a bit overstated and far-fetched,” Geingob said. In his view, changes would come about by way of a strong opposition. “It is true that democracy provides an environment to question the leadership in the country, a democracy in which the country’s leadership is held responsible. However, democracy is more than just elections every five years. It’s more than that. People cannot eat democracy. They want food to eat and live in peace. “Hence, the fact that we want to empower our people economically. Without this democracy will be hollow,” Geingob stated. The present Prime Minister, Nahas Angula agreed with his fellow Constitutional architect, Geingob, whom he jokingly referred to as emeritus Prime Minister. He said the governance status quo should remain in place. “Election outcomes are very important in the present governing system and it works. … We need an opposition that is able to convince the electorate in order to change the constitution democratically,” Angula responded. A few years ago, the ruling Swapo Party changed the country’s Constitution by majority vote to afford the former and Founding President of the Republic of Namibia, Sam Nujoma, a third term. Panellist Eric Benja-minson, Deputy Chief of the American embassy, warned that democracies are not automatically economically successful. “Namibia is struggling with problems such a skewed income distribution that needs to be fought, the apartheid effect has been more profound than initially realised, the HIV/AIDS pandemic sowing havoc and gender equality in which 55 percent of the population, women, is still being ignored. The best way of fighting these problems is investment,” Benjaminson, asserted.